By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
(Read Part 5)
We conclude our thoughts on Christmas from the perspective of the prophet Isaiah by looking briefly at two of the most famous chapters from the “New Testament Section” of the book—the final 39 chapters—from this great Christmas prophet.
This chapter has become an integral part of our meditation upon Christmas, largely due to the central place that it holds in Handel’s Messiah. Its major themes help us to focus on watching for the Savior—as if we, like Isaiah, lived in the centuries preceding His birth; and welcoming the Savior, as if we, like Simeon, were there to greet Him at his first coming. This passage also drives us to learn from those who should have understood their need to “prepare” for His first coming and to welcome him then (Luke 1:76; cf. Luke 3:1-6)—even as we today are commanded “to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10).
As we consider the coming of our Savior into the world, we turn to this most beloved chapter for insights on how to welcome Him.
Isaiah 40:1-11 is filled with references to the coming kingdom of Christ—not merely the end of the Babylonian Captivity or even only the first coming of Christ.
The first major section of this passage (vv. 1-5) must be interpreted in light of Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6. Verses 3-5 are also quoted or referenced in the New Testament in Matthew 3:1-4; Mark 1:1-4; Luke 1:76-78; 3:1-6; and John 1:23.
By studying the gospels, we learn that John the Baptist came to bring a message of repentance in light of a new period of the offering of the kingdom to Israel. When the nation of Israel rejected that offer, however, it became impossible for John to fulfill these prophecies (cf. Matt. 11:14; 17:11-12). Thus, although this passage is applied to John by New Testament authors, he became simply a foreshadowing of the coming Elijah who will finally herald the news of the kingdom of Christ at His second coming (cf. Matt. 17:1-13; Rev. 11:1-14).
Unlike those who greeted the Coming One, and his forerunner, with rejection, we must respond in belief (cf. John 1:11-12).
Vv. 9-11 offer a glimpse of the coming Messiah, depicting Him as “a shepherd” (v. 11). From our knowledge of the New Testament, we know that this shepherd not only “feed(s) His flock” (v. 11), but that, in addition, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Returning to the beginning of this text, we realize that it is this same shepherd who brings “comfort” to His “people” (Isa. 40:1-2; cf. Ps. 23:4).
Isaiah saw these profound prophetic pictures related to the appearance of Christ—not realizing, as we do on the basis of further and more complete revelation, that there would be a gap of time between the first and second comings of Christ. His prophecies offer a wonderful preview of the ministry of the Messiah. As we think of the glory of His first coming, we realize that His second coming will be far more incredible.
May the joy of this Christmas season cause us to look for Him to return just as certainly as He came once—and to worship Him in light of the righteous rule that He will exercise in His coming kingdom.
This beloved chapter—often referred to as “The Fifth Gospel”—is the central chapter of the middle nine out of three distinct sets of nine chapters that comprise the so-called “New Testament portion” of the book. It is quoted in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans and 1 Peter.
Although this chapter speaks about the Messiah’s death and resurrection, like chapter 40 it has become attached to the Christmas season in our hearts and minds due to its prominent place within Handel’s Messiah. This is entirely appropriate, because as we celebrate the birth of Israel’s Messiah we remember that this One was coming to the earth in order to suffer an unimaginably cruel death, be buried and then rise again.
The context for this awesome chapter is set in Isaiah 52:13-15. We find in that passage a major interpretive clue that guides us in understanding chapter 53. It tell us that the nation of Israel would be “astonished” by these prophecies about the Messiah (Isa. 52:14).
Two great concepts stand out in this chapter as the source of such national amazement. The people would be “astonished” at the Messiah’s humiliation (cf. Isa. 53:1), as well as at His later exaltation (cf. Isa. 52:13).
Their astonishment at his humiliation is understandable in light of Isaiah’s description in Isaiah 52:14-53:9a.
This astonishment is seen at work during the earthly ministry of Christ at His birth (cf. Luke 2:9, 18-19, 33, 47) and upon hearing Him speak (cf. Matt. 7:28-29; 9:33; John 7:46). Though he was unimpressive to look upon, His speaking ability was magnetic.
The Jewish people were completely overwhelmed by the concept that their Messiah would die (cf. Isa. 53:8-9). They were further perplexed by the question of how the Messiah could both suffer and reign.
These seemed to be insoluble problems. The Jewish mind was totally mystified at how this same Savior, who was so brutally humiliated, could rise and be exalted (cf. Isa. 53:10-12).
From the perspective of the completed revelation of the New Testament, the believing mind can now fully understand how Messiah could suffer and die in humiliation, and also rise and ascend in exaltation—and why, in fact, He had to do so (cf. Luke 24:25-27).
We find in this chapter an amazing reference to the fact that Christ’s humiliation ended with the completion of His sufferings and death (cf. John 19:30). His exaltation began then, not with His resurrection, but with His burial “with the rich” (Isa. 53:9; cf. Matt. 27:57-60). This was symbolic of the miraculous preservation of Christ’s physical body during the time between His death and resurrection (Acts 2:27; cf. Ps. 16:10)—all of which served to foreshadow His coming resurrection. Having been counted as a criminal in His crucifixion, Jesus’ body would normally have been placed in the Valley of Hinnom were it not for the efforts of Joseph of Arimathea.
As the Christmas season once again draws to a close, we leave it having been reminded of the significance of these major revelations given to us through the pen of Isaiah—the greatest of all the writing prophets and the most magnificent Christmas prophet.
May the Lord’s blessings abound in this coming New Year upon all who walk into it across the holy ground of this chapter.
Copyright © 2015 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.